Defamation suit against members of chess body reinstated

A Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) honorary treasurer has succeeded in his bid to reinstate his defamation suit.

District Judge David Lim Hock Choon disagreed that Mr Jasmin Nisban's suit should be struck off just because the alleged libellous material had very limited publication and legal costs would outweigh any recoverable damages.

He said the alleged offending remarks against Mr Nisban, 51, were potentially damaging in a far-reaching way, " especially in a conservative society".

"We have seen in the news how politicians, high-ranking public servants, high-ranking corporate officials and other public figures have paid high prices," the judge added in judgment grounds, released on Tuesday, allowing the suit to proceed.

Mr Nisban had sued 24 members who had signed a requisition request as part of a group seeking an extraordinary general meeting to elect a new executive committee.

The request, which was delivered in January 2015 to the then SCF president, the executive director and an SCF assistant manager, included a letter which contained allegedly offending remarks implicating Mr Nisban.

Mr Nisban, through his Rajah and Tann lawyers, offered all the 51 members who signed the requisition to dissociate themselves from the letter. This left 39 members who did not and were sued for libel.

After the lawsuit opened, 13 of them settled with Mr Nisban through mediation, leaving 24 and two others as defendants.

In February, a deputy registrar struck out the suit against the 24 signatories who filed for the move on the grounds that as there was no "substantial tort" against Mr Nisban, the benefit was minimal to him, so his suit was an abuse of process.

Their lawyer, Mr Deepak Raja, argued that there was no significant damage as the publication was limited to three persons, of whom two already knew of the original complaint that triggered the offending statements, and the third person, even if she had read the letter, would have done so as an SCF staff member.

But Mr Nisban's lawyer, Mr Lau Kok Keng, countered that the offending statements related to him in his own right and not to the SCF, and it cannot be said there was no publication of the statements when sent to the three persons.

Judge Lim agreed and explained that there would have been no suit if there was no tort committed against the plaintiff.

In ruling that the case should go to trial , he considered the seriousness of the statements, the malice involved and whether it was just to strike out Mr Nisban's action. "I really do not see how any of (the defendants' grounds) could apply to justify striking out (Mr Nisban)'s action," said Judge Lim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Defamation suit against members of chess body reinstated'. Print Edition | Subscribe